Staff in almost one fifth of pharmacies could be wasting more than five hours per week, the equivalent of one month's working time a year, trying to source out-of-stock medicines.
Adding to the growing weight of evidence about the impact shortages are having on the sector, the C+D Stocks Survey 2011 found 95 per cent of pharmacists spend over an hour a week trying to obtain drugs, with 62 per cent saying they spend more than two hours a week on the task.
More than 18 per cent of the 322 survey respondents reported taking more than five hours a week to deal with stock shortages, which equates to over 26 10-hour working days per year.
The findings confirm pharmacists' claims that supply chain problems have shown no signs of improvement in the past two years – in 2010, 89 per cent of pharmacists responding to C+D's Stocks Survey reported spending at least an hour a week chasing medicines; while in 2009 the figure was 90 per cent.
Industry leaders expressed concern that the problems were wasting pharmacists' valuable time and warned that they were increasing workload stress as well as pressure on the NHS.
"Sadly these findings do not come as a surprise," said a Pharmacy Voice spokesperson. They said they were concerned that "precious time" was being allocated to "a frustrating medicines hunt", and asked: "How many lifestyle interventions and medicine consultations could be delivered in the time it takes to jump through these hoops?"
Numark agreed that problems in the supply chain were forcing pharmacists into an "over- burdensome layer of administration". "At a time when pharmacists are being required to do more to enhance patient compliance with prescribed medicine regimes, they are instead forced to waste precious time in sourcing products in short supply," a spokesperson said. The shortages therefore had implications for the NHS "not simply in terms of cost, but also on the wider objectives of NHS policy", the group warned.
Charity Pharmacist Support said it believed the stress stock shortages was causing pharmacists had become a part of daily life. "The situation regarding stocks has been absorbed by pharmacists and staff, and it's now routine, unfortunately," said chairman David Thomson.
"Anecdotally, I've heard of a case where it's taking one member of staff one day a week doing nothing else but trying to secure stock on behalf of patients," he added.
Mr Thomson said the prospect of having to call up and pester suppliers was just one factor causing pharmacists stress. "It's a difficult conversation - it brings conflict, it brings challenges," he said. "You are not going to look forward to the exchange."
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